Service Learning Project – Discipline Specific

Service Learning Project – Discipline Specific
By Kristina Gray, Dec. 14, 2005
Northland Community College students were given a writing assignment by their composition teacher,
Kristina Gray, requiring them to interview professionals from an older generation. The interviewees were
to be over 65 years or older and at least three or four quotes used in the students’ papers taken from the
interview. Many retired nurses were sought out as well as firemen, businessmen, farmers and homemakers
in order to find out what life was like in their professions 50-60 years ago.
Chelsey Aune and Cassie Aamoth from Crookston both interviewed a retired nurse who was born in the
1920s. She said her biggest achievement after getting her nursing training at the Bethesda School of
Learning in Crookston was the “capping ceremony.” Their interviewee revealed with sadness that she felt
“proud to wear her cap and it is hard to see that people don’t wear them now days.” For her, the capping
was her most memorable moment, and she added, “I wanted to be a nurse since I could talk.”
The rigors of nursing were demanding enough by any other discipline’s standards. In the mid-1950s it
meant that nurses in training had to get up a 7:00 a.m. to begin classes and then at 4:00 p.m. they went to
work until 7:00 p.m. at which time they had more training, such as CPR, after that. The retired nurse
interviewed by Chelsey and Cassie had to pay $75 for her tuition and for her last six months she worked
“on the floor” which essentially was “hands on” work where she received $10 a month. Her greatest
inspiration and what helped calm her was her heroine Florence Nightingale who had many struggles of her
This interviewee in her 80s said much the same thing about her training as Michelle Boyer’s interviewee
who received her three-year diploma at St. Michael’s Hospital in Grand Forks, ND. She said that 50 to
75% of their education was “hands-on.” She made the comment that Michelle wrote, “we were kind of
like slave labor but we really learned a lot, not like today where more of the education is in the classroom,
less of the clinical so you don’t get as much of the hands-on [experience].”
Michelle’s retired nurse interviewee also said many years ago people had to be careful because insurance to
pay the doctor’s bills was not used as it is today. She was told the “cardinal rule” among nurses was to
NOT discuss finances with patients as well as religion or politics. In order for good relationships to be
established, it was also important for the nurse to have good communication with the physicians. She said
that there was a lot of animosity between the nurses and physicians and ultimately this caused the patient to
suffer. Michelle’s interviewee said that she made the effort to ask the doctor on what she didn’t understand
and also to be around when the doctor made rounds in order to hear what the patient’s questions were.
Amber Myers interviewed a 98-year-old woman also in the nursing profession and instead of going to
Crookston or Grand Forks for training; she went to Bismarck for three years of training. In order to have
enough money for her schooling, she first taught school in a one-room schoolhouse when at that time she
only needed to go to school for six weeks to get a teaching certificate. Once enrolled in her nurses program
in Bismarck, she said they had to work at the hospital. “The first year they would pay you two dollars a
month, second year was four dollars a month and the third year was six dollars a month.” Amber wrote
that her interviewee graduated as the youngest student in the program and she went to Denver, Colorado to
go into pediatrics.
Megan Snobl interviewed a retired nurse in her 80s and the initial reason she went into nursing was because
her son was born with cerebral palsy. He only lived to 17 years of age and she explained, “I always
thought you were supposed to be born perfect.” After that experience, she wanted to help others, she said,
“It’s a privilege to be able to work with people.” When asked about the hardest part of her job as a nurse,
she replied, “You have to deal with death.” That all depends on how the patient is handling their
destination, whether or not he or she is expecting it or not.
Megan’s interviewee was philosophical when she shared her thoughts about whether nursing was a science
or an art. Her reply was, “you have to have the science part, but the art part would be more how you react
to the patient, not everyone is made to be a nurse.” Megan added in her essay that nurses “need to be
knowledgeable about many things, including medications and doses, and most importantly about caring and
sharing their heart.”
Megan’s retired nurse spoke from first hand experience about the frustrations of not being able to spend
more time with patients. “It was hard to let people know that you cared because you were always so busy.”
What was revealed to Megan was that nursing is more than a job, it is an emotional roller coaster having to
deal with “death, the complaints, the hardships that illnesses put people through.” However, Megan’s
interviewee said that dealing with both the positive and negative aspects of nursing can “change your life”
and “it has a big impact on you, its something you’ll carry with you.”
Another helping profession in saving lives was an interview done by Magdalena Alameda who talked with
a retired firefighter. He said, “The self-rewarding part is when you can save lives from extracting a person
out of a burning building or vehicle, but this job is more than putting out fires, it’s also about going and
reaching out to young children in schools talking and teaching about fire prevention.” Magdalena added
that people do not realize that firefighters do not always go and put out a big or small fire, their job is to
prevent fires from occurring. “It’s hard to say how many fires were prevented because of the training and
educating to young children that took place.”
Another profession that helps to sustain life was farming and several students interviewed retired farmers.
Kaley Littlejohn interviewed someone born in 1930 while Thomas Dillon interviewed another farmer who
was born in 1931. Kaley’s interviewee said that it was his grandfather was the one who taught him a great
deal about farming. He could still remember when his “grandfather put me up on a tractor for the first time
and told me to figure it out.” Even though it meant a three wheel John Deere, with no cab and paint peeling
off, “it was something I looked forward to.”
This 75-year-old farmer admitted that, “farming is a never ending job, you can spend hours working and
never get close to the end.” The reality of farming is that harvest season is the busiest time but in the off
season there is plenty of equipment to get prepared for the next cycle of seasons. Kaley found out from her
interviewee that after working on the farm for 43 years and following his retirement that “he soon realized
how much he regretted not spending more time with his children and less on the farm work. He currently
spends more of his time with his children and grandchildren trying to make up for lost time.”
Thomas Dillon interviewed a 74-year-old farmer from Lengby, Minnesota who was like a “walking
museum.” When Thomas asked if this retired farmer had any good advice about farming, he simply said,
“Don’t start.” When asked to explain why, he said “there wasn’t enough money to be made in it.” Also,
that it was hard work and unpredictable. This interviewee had gone to the agricultural high school in
Crookston, Minnesota but during that time he went into the Marines. Thomas figured his interviewee was
very clever because when he signed up, the Marines asked him what his profession was. Instead of saying
he was a farmer, he told them he was a truck driver. This got him out of the infantry division and he
figured this was a better job than fighting. However, Thomas thought that driving around with a truck full
of explosives had its drawbacks.
When asked when the happiest moment in his life was, the retired farmer and ex-Marine said, “coming
home from Korea in one piece.” He was able to see his first born daughter whom he didn’t even know had
been born until a month after it happened. Communication was not the same as today. Thomas wrote,
“The only way of communicating with loved ones was mail and during a war it was hard for letters to catch
up with you.”
Carrisa Morris interviewed an energetic 79 year old woman from Nielsville, Minnesota who had signed on
to the Cadet Corps. Her interviewee admitted that for many women it was the only way to further their
education. The Cadet Corps would pay students $15 a month and provide them with uniforms. The war
had created a shortage of nurses and so there were strict rules to be followed when joining the Cadet Corps.
They had a housemother and curfew was 10 p.m. every night. Not that there was much free time because
as Carissa wrote, “if they weren’t in class, they would have to be working on the floor answering patients
call lights.” Another rule while in the Cadet Corps was that you couldn’t be married.
Amanda Halldorson when interviewing her grandmother admitted that for her the best thing she did was
being a housewife and mother. She believed her biggest accomplishment was “raising my children was the
toughest but most rewarding job ever, and I would never change it for the world.”
Lance Kallinen found out more about business but also something similar when interviewing a woman who
was born in 1927 in Drayton, North Dakota. She said the biggest accomplishment in her life “was staying
married to her husband for 52 years and having children and grandchildren who love to have her around.”
She and her husband ran a business that lasted for 25 years. One of her first of many jobs was of picking
potatoes at 4 cents a bushel; she was used to hard work. She explained to Lance that “running a business is
very hard because you put your whole life into it.” Apparently they went out of business when bigger
companies started taking over and these small businesses couldn’t compete any longer.
Kayla Chaput interviewed her grandmother who had been born in 1931 in Rollete, North Dakota. She
moved to Chicago and went to Teletype school. When that training was finished, she worked on the 51 st
floor of the Civic Opera House in downtown Chicago. Of course, many of the interviewees had fun as
well as all the hard work revealed in these interviews that were more discipline specific. Many of the older
generation talked about the dances they attended or how they met their future mate, but that is for another
article. Suffice it to say significant changes have happened in many of the professions that Northland
Community and Technical College promote in their two year programs. To know about what professionals
learned and knew before our computer age helps to see that not much of the human element has changed.
There are still people who hurt, work hard, save lives, nurture living and now have time to reflect how they
helped society. Service Learning projects such as this, help Northland students explore the wisdom that
can and should be passed down in their coursework.